Australian filmmaker Steve Jacobs's adaptation of South African writer J.M. Coetzee's 1999 novel doesn't add much clarity to the debate on race in America, but it's plenty disturbing. David Lurie (John Malkovich), a literature professor in Cape Town, fancies himself a Byronic hero as he coerces a mixed-race student into an affair, and he remains uncontrite even when confronted by the student's father.
All the same, the university pressures him to resign, and when he visits his daughter Lucy (a terrific Jessica Haines), who lives in a remote rural area where white settlers have been increasingly victimized by blacks, the stage is set for retribution. If the historical context for black anger is lacking, Jacobs nonetheless builds tension with excruciating effectiveness and dreamlike detachment.
And Malkovich proves most powerful when he says nothing. He gazes into the eyes of a goat about to be butchered, wondering what it costs to turn disgrace into redemption.